The recent passing of Bishop Edward Daly was a reminder for many people of the horrors of 30 January 1972, when British paratroopers opened fire on a Civil Rights demonstration in Derry.
While there had been earlier atrocities against the civilian population in Ulster, such as that at Ballymurphy,the manner in which the carnage and mayhem in Derry was captured on film ensured international outrage. In particular, images of Bishop Daly with his blood-soaked white handkerchief trying to escort young Jackie Duddy to safety were reproduced in the press, along with the faces of the dead. In 2010, David Cameron would apologise in Westminster for the actions of British troops on the day. In Derry, it brought some closure but no justice. The city corner, a former British Army major, had correctly called the events out for what they were in August 1973:
This Sunday became known as Bloody Sunday and bloody it was. It was quite unnecessary. It strikes me that the Army ran amok that day and shot without thinking what they were doing. They were shooting innocent people. These people may have been taking part in a march that was banned but that does not justify the troops coming in and firing live rounds indiscriminately. I would say without hesitation that it was sheer, unadulterated murder. It was murder.
Walking in the grounds of the Royal Hospital recently, I went looking for the small memorial stone to ‘Patrick Ireland’ in the grounds, a small reminder of the impact of the events of Bloody Sunday on one Irish man. Born in Roscommon in 1928, the artist and critic Brian O’Doherty was already well-established in the United States at the time of the massacre. In the 1960s, he had been art critic for the New York Times, as well as an on-air contributor to NBC television. Deeply troubled by the events at home, O’Doherty decided to adopt the name ‘Patrick Ireland’, later telling a journalist that “the name at least became a reminder. Every work I did after that gained a political context for me and for anyone who may have wondered who Patrick Ireland was.” The symbolic changing of name happened in a performance piece in the Project Arts Centre, entitled Name Change, with the artist Robert Ballagh serving as witness. O’Doherty vowed to sign his art as Patrick Ireland, “until such time as the British military presence is removed from Northern Ireland and all citizens are granted their civil rights.”
As Whitney Rugg has noted, O’Doherty was a significant figure in the American arts community at the time, “serving as editor-in-chief of Art in America, perhaps the broadest and most mainstream journal for American art at that time.” His protest was widely commented upon in the arts world, where the response to his actions was mostly positive.
By 2008, O’Doherty felt that his own criteria had been met, with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the continuing Peace Process. Symbolically, an effigy (complete with death mask) was buried in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in May 2008, with several hundred people in attendance. Michael Rush, a former Jesuit priest who became a Museum director, facilitated a short service during which a number of poems celebrating peace were read.